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Authors: Lilah Pace

His Royal Favorite

BOOK: His Royal Favorite
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Titles by Lilah Pace

His Royal Secret

His Royal Favorite

 

Asking For It

Begging For It

Asking For More

His Royal Favorite

Lilah Pace

INTERMIX

New York

INTERMIX

Published by Berkley

An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

Copyright © 2016 by Blue Moon Publications, LLC.

Penguin Random House supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin Random House to continue to publish books for every reader.

INTERMIX and the “IM” design are trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

ISBN: 9781101989111

First Edition: August 2016

Cover design by Annette Defex.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Chapter 1

One Day More

“Fiona, it’s Ben.” Thank God he’d gotten her machine. Yes, it was early, but often his editor at Global Media arrived around dawn. Ben leaned his elbow onto the mahogany desk and chose his words carefully. “I’ve got to take a personal day. Sorry for the late notice. Actually, we ought to have a meeting soon.”

He couldn’t say what the meeting was about, not only because he couldn’t yet reveal his secret, but also because he had no idea how to begin.

Maybe:
Remember that story I wrote in Kenya, the one about the Prince Regent? I failed to mention that we met each other there, the prince and I.

Or:
This is all on you, Fiona. You gave me that invitation to the charity dinner where the prince would appear, remember? If I hadn’t gone, we would never have seen each other again.

No, at this point, he ought to know better than to bury the lede. Best to put the most important information first:
I am in a romantic relationship with Prince James, currently Prince Regent and head of state for the United Kingdom.

He loves me, and I love him. I’m in love the way I thought only fools and children could ever be. I spent my whole life being the most cynical bastard in the world, and I never believed in fairy tales, so of course an actual, literal Prince Charming came along.

Oh, and by the way, the next king of England is gay. Might want to assign someone to write a piece on that. His coming out will probably be the biggest news story of the year.

Fortunately, Ben couldn’t be expected to report on this. Conflict of interest. He continued his message to Fiona, scheduling what promised to be the most momentous meeting of his life. “Do you have time on Friday? Maybe around two p.m.?”

He glanced over at James for confirmation; James nodded as he fastened his trousers. Apparently the big press conference was being scheduled for Friday at one thirty.

“Let me know,” Ben concluded. “Talk to you tomorrow.”

As he hung up, James stepped behind him and put his hands on his shoulders; his touch was warm through the thin cotton undershirt he wore. They were both only half-dressed, disheveled and weary. “I don’t know about you, but I could use some coffee.”

“Please.”

They’d been up more than half the night. Some of that had been lovemaking—enough to make Ben’s entire body sore, to leave his lips swollen and tender from their countless kisses. But mostly they’d just held on to each other. Ben had gone nearly two decades without telling another man he loved him, or even wanting to. Last night the words had kept pouring out of him, again and again, like he had to keep saying it to James or else none of this would be real.

James stepped away to get the coffee, but Ben rose and caught his hand, pulled him into his embrace. For a few moments they remained like this, rocking slightly back and forth, as though dancing to a slow song only they could hear.

“I still can’t believe you would do this for me,” James murmured against his shoulder. “You’re going to stay with me when I come out. You’re going to face the entire world by my side. I never dreamed you would.”

“Neither did I. But here we are.”

That made James laugh a bit, and then he headed into the kitchen; unlike the rest of the royal family, James preferred privacy to the omnipresence of servants, which meant he cooked some of his own food, fed the corgis personally, and made a great cup of coffee. As if they knew Ben had been thinking of them, Happy and Glo came bounding up the stairs after their walk. How did the butler get the dogs out of these rooms without disturbing James? It was almost spooky. The corgis ignored Ben; James was in the kitchen, which meant the possibility of food, so they hurried after their master. For a moment Ben was alone.

Still he was staggered by what he’d learned, what he’d done. When Ben had realized how profoundly he loved James—that James had broken through his defenses, and that no other man ever could—at that point, he had known what he had to do. That didn’t mean he relished the prospect of going public.

It’s just the first few weeks you’ll have to slog through
, he told himself. After that, his workday life would have been proved dull enough to discourage the most frenzied paparazzo. Yes, he and James would attract attention when they were together, but at least now they wouldn’t always have to hide.

As for what the future held beyond that, Ben didn’t know and refused to guess. Obviously James was determined to remain in royal life; obviously Ben was never going to become royal himself. They had built a bridge between those worlds, and now they just had to figure out how to sustain it once James went public.

“Can you eat out?” Ben said as he walked into the kitchen.

James was busy pushing down the handle of the French press. “What?”

“At a restaurant. Do you go to restaurants?”

“Not often. But usually a private room can be arranged, if I wish. Sometimes I go with Cass, so people see us walking in and out.” He paused. “I used to go with Cass.”

At least he wouldn’t have that wild-eyed woman barging in and attacking him again. Lady Cassandra Roxburgh might be James’s friend and the most long-suffering beard in history, but she loathed Ben, who couldn’t help being irritated by her in response.

His mood was gentled by the delectable scent of coffee. Ben smiled as James held out a china cup. “We’ll have more choices now of places to go, things to do. More options.”

“Do you think so?” James’s eyes looked sad, but maybe that was just exhaustion. “I hope that’s true.”

Neither of them felt as though they could stomach a full breakfast so early, so they finished pulling themselves together. Without thinking about it much, Ben had assumed that the assistant James spoke of would come to meet with them in the private suite within Clarence House. So he was surprised when James instead walked to a door off the living room that Ben had never seen him open.

At Ben’s puzzled look, James smiled. “Come on. Time you saw the rest of the house.”

Ben followed James from his comfortable suite of rooms into . . . a palace.

The change was immediate and unmistakable. Until now Ben had only seen the rooms where James spent most of his private time. While the furnishings there were obviously of the highest quality, there was a hominess to the space, with its pet food bowls, casual family photographs, and James’s dog-eared paperbacks, not to mention his Slanket tossed over a chair. Now they were walking through what seemed to be the hallway of a museum. The carpet under their feet was thicker; the air smelled of polish and leather. Everything was so clean it gleamed. Even the light seemed mellowed by age and grandeur.

It wasn’t as though Ben hadn’t known Clarence House was a palace before, but in some ways he hadn’t
felt
it until this moment.

Most startling: Clarence House was already filled with people. All the time he’d been kissing James good morning or drinking coffee, other people had been walking through the house unaware. This was surprising enough, though Ben supposed it made sense. What didn’t make sense—what astonished him—was the fact that not one of these people said a single word about Ben’s presence as he and James went through the hallway. When James nodded at them and said good day, they would reply (each of them, just the same), “Good morning, Your Royal Highness.” Their polite smiles included Ben and betrayed not one hint of surprise about this total stranger in wrinkled jeans trailing the Prince Regent.

Most startling of all was James himself. He held himself differently, somehow seeming to be a couple of inches taller. Everything about him from his smile to his stride indicated confidence, calm, even power. Ben at first thought this was an act, but realized it wasn’t. This was James as Ben had rarely seen him. This was James as
the prince
.

They walked into an office so grand that Ben first thought,
prime minister
, before realizing he was being an idiot. James began to sit behind the desk, then stopped himself. “No. I want to be beside you. Here, the side table works.”

The “side table” would have sat eight for dinner. As he took a seat beside James, Ben murmured, “Why didn’t they say anything? The people outside.”

“What do you mean?” James frowned.

“Why didn’t they say anything about me? A total unknown trailing the Prince Regent through the hallways?”

James looked at Ben as though he’d just asked why the sky wasn’t green. “No one here would ever speak to me about any subject unless I spoke to them first.”

It hit Ben like a punch to the solar plexus:
There are ways in which you don’t know this man at all.

But no. Ben knew James, the real James, even if nobody else in the world did. He had to hold on to that no matter what. He took James’s hand and was rewarded with the gentle smile he loved so well.

Then a woman walked through the door, medium height, with long black hair that curled halfway down her back. She was Asian, slim as a reed, and dressed in a sophisticated sheath dress and cardigan with a bright floral scarf at her throat. She betrayed only the mildest surprise at seeing Ben, a raised eyebrow, before she smiled at James.

“Good morning, Kimberley,” James said. He didn’t rise, so Ben didn’t either. “Ben, this is Kimberley Tseng. She’s my personal assistant and main media consultant, and she’s shepherding me through this process. Kimberley, I would like you to meet Benjamin Dahan. I moved this meeting earlier because you need to know that Ben is—” He looked over at Ben and tightened his grip on his hand. “He’s the reason that I’m coming out with a partner after all.”

“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. Dahan,” Ms. Tseng said, smooth as the silk around her neck. “So we’re changing course?”

James’s thumb traced over Ben’s wrist, slow and deliberate, and despite the formality of the setting, Ben felt a flicker of heat. “I made certain assumptions about Ben’s willingness to take this on,” James said. “He has disabused me of those assumptions. So yes. He’s going to stand with me through this, and I couldn’t be happier. I realize this forces you to redo a great deal of work you’ve done at the last minute, and for that I apologize. But here we are.”

Ben felt as though he should say something, but he had no idea what.

Ms. Tseng took a seat, and for the first time Ben saw some hesitation there. “May I continue to speak frankly, sir?”

“Please do,” James said. Ben nodded; he really wanted someone to start talking like a normal person.

“First things first, Your Royal Highness.” Ms. Tseng took up her iPad. “Earlier you told me you were—I believe the phrase was ‘nowhere near the altar.’ Has that changed?”

Fuck.
Ben hadn’t even considered marrying James. He still found the idea of marriage strange, alien to his own life, but he’d spent the whole night declaring his depthless love. Was it possible James expected them to set a date? When Ben had chosen
now
rather than
never
, what exactly did James think he wanted now?

But James shook his head. “No. We're not engaged.”

“Good. In fact, that’s ideal.” Her fingers danced on her iPad, quicker than anyone else’s Ben had ever seen. “Going straight from the news of your sexuality to a marriage announcement—it might be too great a jump for the public to make. But a serious relationship is perfect, sir. People respect commitment. Also, they won’t start speculating about every man you come into contact with from now on, which is a plus.”

We didn’t fall in love as a PR move
, Ben wanted to retort. However, he knew he was only being defensive. Considering these things was Ms. Tseng’s job, and she appeared to be good at it.

Instead he said, “I imagine there’s information you’ll need from me. Whatever it is you want to know, just ask.”

“There’s a great deal we should review,” she agreed. “In fact, Mr. Dahan, if at all possible, you and I should meet privately this afternoon for an hour or two. The list of topics we should cover is extensive, and it would go more smoothly if I had a chance to prep.”

“That’s fine. I called in sick today.”

Her fingers paused. He realized she hadn’t thought of him as someone who had a job, the same as her. But within half a second Ms. Tseng was back to her usual briskness. “I’ll need a basic bio as soon as possible. Do you have one already?”

“There’s one on the Global Media Services website,” Ben said. At her raised eyebrow, he said, “Yes, I’m a reporter. But I cover economic issues, not royalty.”

“Except once,” James said. “Thank goodness.”

She nodded. “Of course. The article just after the king’s stroke. I remember it now. Very well-written, Mr. Dahan.”

“Thank you,” Ben said, but his discomfort was only growing. He wanted someone to act like a
person
about this, to be shocked or thrilled or say
Oh my God
or in any other way behave normally.

“I take it you two met in Kenya,” she said.

James beamed, like this
was
normal conversation. “Yes, we did. Though we didn’t begin seeing each other properly until after Ben transferred to London a few months ago.”

Ben wondered if he’d be able to shake Ms. Tseng’s aplomb by sharing a few more details.
No, we didn’t begin dating until later, but just to be clear, within four hours of meeting His Royal Highness, I had my cock in his mouth.

Probably inappropriate.

“I’m going to begin with a suggestion,” Ms. Tseng said. She looked up from the iPad, and Ben could tell she wasn’t sure how this would go over. “It might be best if Mr. Dahan attended the meeting at Buckingham Palace today.”

“Buckingham Palace?” Ben said. It was surreal. Like someone asking if you wanted to visit the moon around lunchtime.

“You think so?” James said, glancing from Ms. Tseng to Ben and back again. “I would have thought that meeting was going to be charged enough.” To Ben he said, “It’s the whole family, together. We haven’t discussed my being gay before, and most of them only found out yesterday.”

Ben breathed out. “Sounds dire.”

Ms. Tseng was undeterred. “If you’ll forgive my saying so, sir, that situation can’t be made much more explosive than it already is. Whereas introducing Mr. Dahan at another time would only create a second opportunity for discord.”

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